After An Analytical and Scientific Inquiry Into the Structural Integrity of “Writing the Rails”…


May 31, 2012 by Ray Yanek

… I’ve concluded that my blog sucks monkey-ass and I don’t like it.

It’s become too easy for me to avoid, and when I do force myself to sit down and write something for it, the screen remains as blank as my mind.

About a week ago, I finished my 16th year teaching high school English.  At the end of the year, I try to take a moment to reflect in order to determine what  things worked in the classroom and what things didn’t.

So I decided to employ that strategy with the blog to see if I couldn’t figure out what went wrong and whether or not the blog was salvageable.  I think Writing the Rails can be saved, but only after a massive restructuring and general rethinking.  What I ultimately discovered as well, was that the problems with this blog were merely a symptom of a much larger problem that had to do with, ahem…me.

I hope that if you write your own blog this analysis can help you uncover any structural weaknesses in your work.  If you don’t have any structural weaknesses, I hope as well that you’ll leave me a comment letting me know how you keep your blog strong.

Or you could just say hi…

General Overview and Impressions:

My posts lack any real semblance of cohesiveness.  There are flash fiction pieces, musings about my daughter and her readings, rants about education, a few travel things, some bitching and moaning about my shitty luck with literary agents, etc.  Save the agent pieces, I’ve enjoyed writing most of these posts.  Some brought in quite a few readers and even a handful of subscribers, but the lack of a common thread, a through-line if you will, is glaring.

In a student essay, a lack of cohesiveness among paragraphs usually signals a problem with the thesis or general purpose of the paper. That seems to be the problem here as well.  Did I ever have a purpose for this blog?  Something that I hoped to accomplish by writing it?  Yes, and if I take a minute and think really hard, I can almost remember what it was.

That, my highly-scientific mind deduced, was possibly the root cause for the monkey-ass suckiness of this blog.

Step One then, was to resurrect that initial purpose, examine it under a microscope and see if it was still a worthwhile objective.

And to do that, I needed to go back and talk to Kristen Lamb.

The Student-Teacher Conference:

Kristen Lamb’s We Are Not Alone: A Writer’s Guide to Social Media was the first book I ever downloaded on my Kindle.  Without that book, this blog would be a bigger mess than it is—if it would have come into existence at all.  Had I kept in mind the principles that Kristen lays out in the book, perhaps I wouldn’t be in the predicament I am currently.

As writers, Kristen says, we need to have clear and specific goals in mind (Goals! Yah!).  We need to think ahead and ask

Photo stolen from Kristen’s website: 

ourselves where we would like our writing careers to be in five years.  Most beginning writers like myself would say that we hope to be published and selling books.  But Kristen pushes us to be more specific.  For example, what genre would we like to be publishing and selling?  Answering that question gives us a much more concrete and specific goal.  With a specific career goal in place, we can better focus the blog and use it as a tool to move us towards a specific audience.  We use the blog to create a ‘brand’ and begin, as Kristin writes, to “link your name interminably with your content.” Just as Stephen King is synonymous with horror, the ultimate goal of a writer’s blog should be to link our name to our specific genre.  To do this, we must become experts in our genre and make blog content reflect that expertise.

When I started this blog, I had just signed with an agent who was excited to represent my mystery/thriller novel The Ecstasy of St. Theresa.  I was going to attend Bouchercon, the premier mystery and crime writer’s conference, so my genre was clear and I thought I had a decent start on content.  Mystery/thriller became my genre and it’s still in the author line at the top.

I was ready to go.  Perhaps a bit too ready…

Where I Bit the Big One–Scientifically Speaking:

On this blog, there are basically three posts dealing with the mystery/thriller genre and none about any content related to my  novel.  Content-wise I could have written about the religious figures that were key in the novel.  I could have written about the life and mysticism of St. Theresa of Avila, about the sculpture Bernini created in order to convey her religious ecstasy, or about the meaning of religious ecstasy in general.  I could have explored the effects of traumatic childhoods, discussed the scars that adults who were raised in households of domestic violence carry.  I could have written about depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome, about the search for connection.

In short, there were a 1000 things I could have written about.

But I wrote about none of them.

In other drafts of this post, I came up with an extended list of reasons why I didn’t do this, but I can boil it down to:

1.)    Got lazy.

2.)    Went into a self-pitying tail spin when my agent quit the business and the agency released me from the contract.

3.)    I soured a bit on the mystery/thriller genre.

Regardless of the reason and excuses, the simple fact is I let myself wander away from the initial goal.  I diverged from the thesis. I made no attempt to support it and thus it became a hodge-podge of random posts.  Does that mean that I can’t blog about things like my daughter or my travels?  No.  But, and I think Kristen would agree, for a writer’s blog those posts need to be auxiliary, a side dish meant to accent the main course.

A solid, unifying and cohesive through-line and purpose needs to remain in place.  That purpose was, and I remember now, to situate myself as an expert in the genre of mystery/thriller and to write about the content of my novel thus garnering interest and assuring future readers I was competent enough to write about that content in a fictional sense.  I should have done that  hoping one day the book would get published and I would have the start of a platform in place.

In hindsight, and with a little help from Kristen Lamb, things seem so blatantly obvious.

But that was the main goal behind Writing the Rails.  Will it still work as the driving force to move this blog forward?

Unfortunately, I don’t think so.

My situation now is much different than when I first started this blog.  Instead of my writing career moving forward, it returned to where it was pre-agent.  That, and because of other reasons I’ll expound upon later, necessitates a re-thinking of that purpose.

That’s where things get a little hairy…

But that’s for part II.

For now though, I would love hear from other bloggers, especially those with writer’s blogs who are unpublished.  How do you work your focus? What if you write in multiple genres?  What works for you when adding content?  For those of you who have other types of blogs, how do you deal with focus?

Hit me with the advice! Hit me hard, cuz I’m standing here wide open…

If you would like more information on Kristen Lamb (which you should, you definitely should) you can find her blog here:  Kristen Lamb’s Blog

Or order We Are Not Alone: A Writer’s Guide to Social Media here.

You can also order her new book Are You There Blog? It’s Me, Writer? Here.


2 thoughts on “After An Analytical and Scientific Inquiry Into the Structural Integrity of “Writing the Rails”…

  1. Well let’s see. I think I found your blog because of the mystery/thriller author bit in the tagline. The first piece I read here was your post about Harry Potter World, which I enjoyed. I’ve stayed because your writing is flawless – good voice, good structure, good grammar & punctuation. This piece is no exception.

    I still feel like I’m floundering around in blog-land too. Fortunately, though, I remain enamoured of my original genre, so maintaining a theme has been manageable. That said, I too have a wildly divergent project on the back burner (a non-fiction, improved-productivity kinda thing) that I have no idea how to incorporate into The Paranormalist.

    I’m very interested to learn what your new focus is going to be. Hurry and write part two 🙂

  2. Pamela Liegl says:

    Hi Ray!

    As we just started summer vacation, it is essential(?) that we, as teachers, go back and critique our past years performance. I don’t know why, we just do. It is somewhere in the teachers handbook (that I have to go through this coming year) or somewhere in the complex universe known as “wanting to do the best we can with what little we have to work with”. (and you think you’re off track!!) Like I tell my horror struck math students when a surprise test, that they have known about for two weeks, is placed in front of them, “take a deep breathe….let it out slowly…repeat and then start work”. Repeat this often.

    So Ray, it is June 1st, the butler did it, take a deep breathe and move on with all the creative genius that you have shown. Eventually, it will crystalize into something that even you, the perfectionist, will be proud to call your own. Looking forward to the next installment of your blog, which is the only one that I currently read.


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